The Caroline

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Another Outing.

She watched him leave before she hurriedly climbed out and got dressed. He might be mischievous enough to return.

He had not returned to spy on her, but had somehow managed to beat her back to the house, and he should not have been able to do that, yet he still looked fresh when he appeared for lunch to join her after she had changed. She said nothing to Hannah about any of it, though Hannah seemed to know. She handed Caroline a slice of hot fresh bread with butter spread heavily upon it, except it had melted into it.

“You done got your hair wet in that swimming hole again. The number of times I had to wash the salt and sand out of your hair and your petticoats!” Wyatt just smiled and said nothing but could see that she was still angry with him the way she glared at him, daring him to say anything about having surprised her there. He kept quiet other than to compliment Hannah on the lunch she had prepared.

Her anger with him did not last, fortunately. She cornered him after their lunch and seemed quite matter-of-fact, possibly a little curt. “I am aware of my obligation to you, as I promised, and am not trying to avoid it. We will walk tomorrow, or ride if you don’t mind, as I show you around. I would like to reorganize furniture this afternoon and bring it all back as I once remembered it and as I want to see it.” She would empty the house of all that reminded her of her brothers and father and begin as she intended to go on. It would take years to expunge the house and the estate of their influence, but she would make a start on it.

“I don’t mind. I can help, if you like, with some of the heavier pieces.” She accepted his kind offer, but he was still not totally forgiven for embarrassing her.

When he awoke the next morning, it was to find her sitting in his room and watching him. She had just put down the book he had been reading. It was early, but she explained that she had brought him hot water, and that they would need an early start after breakfast and would take a packed lunch with them.

“Might we go to that swimming hole do you think?” He could see by the look on her face that she did not like that suggestion and had no intention of taking him anywhere near there, and reliving that moment of embarrassment.

“I had not planned on it. No. We have an hour before we go, so we can look around the outbuildings on foot while I get my own bearings and see what has been neglected and what needs to be done after my years of absence.” He nodded his head in approval, but it was not what he might have chosen to do.

“As soon as I have washed and dressed, I shall join you.” He knew some of what they would do that day and had made plans of his own. He opened a small wooden box on his dresser and took out a brown and somewhat old-looking envelope from it, placing it in an inner pocket.

After breakfast, as Hannah made up a packed lunch for them so that they could go farther afield, she led him around several of the outbuildings as she inspected them and saw what they contained and what was needed to be done to them, if anything. She kept up a running flow of conversation as he followed her around. He was satisfied to remain silent and to listen, though asking a few harmless questions. He soon became aware that she had rapidly formed those old attachments that she had once had, and would not be so easily able to walk away from this place that she loved so well, but then she had no need to think of not staying now.

They walked up the small hill to the cemetery at the top of it, and he asked about the old house he could see in the far distance, even though he knew all about it.

“That is the Ibbotson estate.” She pointed. “Very nice and kind people. I must go and visit them soon and let them know the good news about the changes here. There seemed to be a feud for many years between our families and I never knew why.” It was the area between those two estates of which she had the most fond memories. He could see the lush vegetation that grew away from the salty water of that swimming hole, lying on that boundary, with only the vegetation that might tolerate a little salt, managing to creep closer to the water.

As he asked her about various landmarks, he could see that he jolted other memories. The further they wandered from the Henstridge estate, the more numerous those memories became. Then they crossed for a while onto the Ibbotson estate. It was obviously still worked and showed more signs of prosperity than she had remembered. She was glad for them. They had lost just as much as she had when their son had disappeared, though she had seen only her own pain at first. She had spent much of her time on this seemingly-more-welcoming side of the boundary between the two of them rather than risk being caught with Henry on the Henstridge side of it. She was not so much afraid for herself, but she knew what her brothers were like. She had remembered then that Henry had usually carried a small pistol with him at those times, and he had showed her how to fire it.

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